Somewhere on the Calgary C-train, there is an electric panel with a little sticker that reads: 2NP17. Nick Pizzacalla knows: he put it there, after all. Nestled between the voltage number and breaker number, Pizzacalla’s initials are a lasting reminder of his contribution to the project.
“It’s little things like that which make me love engineering," says Pizzacalla, who worked on the C-train development as an engineering science co-op student. When you create something there is an immediate satisfaction: it’s something I’ve done that’s making an impact in the real world.”
Making an impact is important for Pizzacalla. The Engineering Science Student Society president volunteered with West Vancouver summer camps for many years; his high school recognized his efforts with the top volunteer award for volunteering more than 500 hours.
When he wasn’t studying or volunteering at high school, Pizzacalla was part of a chemistry club in high school called the Chemidians, known for incorporating jokes into chemistry presentations. All the Chemidians pursued engineering at university, and Pizzacalla – whose top marks were in physics, calculus and chemistry – was no exception.
Now he’s ready to graduate from SFU, Pizzacalla has notched up an impressive resume. In addition to his role as president of the Engineering Science Student Society, and earlier positions as the society’s VP finance and VP professional relations, for more than two years he was concurrently a member of APEGBC’s student advisory committee and President of the OpFair Committee.
He also gained more than three years’ electrical engineering experience with SNC-Lavalin (initially a co-op, then a part-time job) working on several major projects, including Calgary’s C-train, the Lower Mainland’s Canada Line and upcoming Evergreen Line, and Ottawa’s Confederation Line.
“I’ve worked on the electrical side of the train station, including the lights, machines, cameras and speakers, making sure the load calculations are correct and the wires can handle that amount of power,” he says.
“I also use AutoCAD drafting tools to design conduit layouts, minimize bends, drainage and duct banks. I do a lot of calculations to ensure what I’m creating fits with everyone else’s utilities; you have to know how much room you have.”
During his placement, Pizzacalla found an unexpected source of inspiration: lighting.
“I’m big into lighting design now,” he says. “I think people often overlook how lighting makes a huge difference in the work environment and can even change your mood.”
Logical thinking, creativity and patience are trademarks of a successful engineer. Pizzacalla draws parallels between this and his passion for diving. “I went to Hawaii to scuba dive and got stuck underneath a rock formation and couldn’t move,” he says. “At first, I couldn’t understand why. Then I realized I had to release the air to let myself slowly sink. You have to think logically in that situation, and not panic.”
Pizzacalla believes the traits for engineering, or at least a knack for invention, is in his DNA. His late father, who shared his love for diving (Pizzacalla wears a Spanish coin from the shipwreck Atocha, which his father wore everyday), was “always thinking of new things and testing new things,” he says.
In fact, he invented a novel and inexpensive beer valve that relieves pressure as soon as the beer flows into the tube resulting in pure beer, minus the foam; the system is even installed in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. His maternal grandfather also started as a watchmaker, so unsurprisingly Pizzacalla loves hands-on engineering work. However, he believes a firm grasp of fundamental theory is also important.
“The theoretical side of engineering is crucial for working in the real world,” he says. “You understand how to learn new things and realize how things work. For example, you might realize there’s turbulent flow in the pipe, but why? What is actually happening with voltage? The theory helps you go deeper.”
Pizzacalla can envision continuing to work with SNC-Lavalin, where he sees “room for personal development and growth.” His final goal is have his own consulting firm, and further explore the business side of engineering.
His departing tip for new students? Get involved in university life.
“You get opportunities to meet people who have the same mentality,” he says. “We’re all here to make a difference. Students are happy after an event, and it’s rewarding to know you were a part of that. If I helped one student get a job from OpFair, it’s all been worth it.”